ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The five bye positions in Atlantic Hockey have already been decided.
The only thing to decide in the final weekend of regular season play was which four of those five would get home ice for the second round.
A key matchup in that decision is the home-and-home series between RIT and Mercyhurst.
Mercyhurst needed to sweep RIT to get home ice. They successfully completed the first step, winning 4-3 on the road, thanks to a two-man advantage goal by Lester Lancaster halfway through the final period.
“I thought it was a really good game,” Mercyhurst coach Rich Gotkin said. “It was up and down. It had goaltending. It had goal scoring. It had power plays, penalty kills. It had dramatics. It had a little bit of everything.”
Power plays were the story of the night. RIT (14-13-6, 14-8-5 AHC) committed two majors accompanied with game misconducts.
The first major (Chase Norrish for contact to the head), after the Lakers committed a minor penalty of their own, resulted in the first power-play goal against RIT in over eight games. Over the past 12 games, including the start of this one, RIT killed 38 of 39 power plays.
“They’re always good at it,” Gotkin said. “The focus is just on us as opposed to what they’re doing.”
Jonathan Charbonneau took a nice pass from Lancaster, cut across the slot, putting it back the other way to beat Christian Short at 11:54. That tied the game 1-1, which is how the first period ended.
The other major (Alexander Kuqali for boarding) in the third period eventually resulted in the winning goal at 11:01. After an unsportsmanlike penalty on Greg Amlong turned it into a five-on-three, Lancaster fired a shot from the top of the left circle that found its way through a crowd. A few seconds before the shot, RIT missed an opportunity to clear the zone.
“We were sloppy and undisciplined tonight,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “We got what we deserved.”
Danny Smith gave the Tigers the first lead of the game on his first goal of the season, stuffing in a rebound off to the side from an initial Myles Powell shot at 5:15.
The second period started quickly for RIT as they took a 2-1 lead, their last of the game, 53 seconds in. Liam Kerins skated down the right side, around a defender, and beat Adam Carlson over the shoulder near side.
Mercyhurst came back with two goals in a three-minute span with pressure combined with sloppy defense by RIT.
Taylor Best fired in a loose puck from the slot. Then Matthew Whittaker tipped in a long shot from Patrick Piacentini.
RIT got their own power play goal 7:49 into the third period to tie the game at three. Kuqali fired a one-time rocket that Carlson got a piece of.
Then came the crucial penalties. All told, Mercyhurst (16-13-4, 14-9-4) was two for nine on the power play, while RIT was one for three.
Carlson made 31 saves for the win.
“We expected this to be a really tough game,” Gotkin said. “We’re really fortunate that we get out of here with two points. We give ourselves a chance tomorrow night to get a top four spot.”
One silver lining for RIT is Short returned in net, giving the Tigers one of their two starting goaltenders back.
“We got to play better,” Wilson said.
With the results of the other league games, RIT and Mercyhurst will play each other in the second round. The only thing to decide now is who gets to host that three-game series in two weeks.
“Tonight could have been the first of five games,” Gotkin said.
It was the last home regular season game for RIT, who honored their seniors prior to the contest. The series shifts to Mercyhurst Saturday night to wrap up the 2015-16 regular season.